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Marilyn Monroe and fashion as a shield

“‘Do you want to see me become her?’ I didn’t know what she meant but I just said ‘Yes’ — and then I saw it. I don’t know how to explain what she did because it was so very subtle, but she turned something on within herself that was almost like magic. And suddenly cars were slowing, and people were turning their heads and stopping to stare. They were recognizing that this was Marilyn Monroe as if she pulled off a mask or something, even though a second ago nobody noticed her. I had never seen anything like it before.” – Amy Greene, wife of Marilyn’s personal photographer Milton Greene.

The name Marilyn Monroe immediately conjures a certain image – diamonds (a girl’s best friend!), white dress billowing over a subway grate, Andy Warhol’s pop art. All visuals that have become synonymous with the blonde bombshell, actress, singer, sex symbol, and the many other roles Marilyn has come to occupy in popular culture.

Confidence is a quality often associated with icons and tastemakers. To make an impact you must be unapologetic – Rihanna, Cher, Josephine Baker, Audrey Hepburn, and even Marilyn Monroe herself join these ranks. Despite the fact that her life was cut short, the fashion statements she made – immortalised in countless photos – are memorable, timeless, and recreated often, making her one of the most recognizable fashion icons ever.   

The archives of Marilyn’s own writing, however, paint a drastically different picture of the person she was underneath the bombshell. Plagued by crippling insecurity, the fear that the mental illness that had claimed her mother would come for her next, an absent father, a childhood spent between foster homes, betrayals from those closest to her, and a teenage marriage to escape the orphanage, she was a young woman trailed by her many demons. Her writing reveals someone who was terrified of disappointing the people around her – worlds away from the breezy, disarming confidence she projected on-camera.

She writes about a dream she had where her teacher, Lee Strasberg, cuts her open ‘and there is absolutely nothing there…. devoid of every human living feeling thing — the only thing that came out was so finely cut sawdust—like out of a raggedy ann doll.’

Monroe’s debilitating insecurity and complete lack of confidence left her entirely at the mercy of external opinions from husbands and co-stars. A member of the latter group, Don Murray, highlighted this paradox when he said, “For somebody who the camera loved, she was still terrified of going before the camera and broke out in a rash all over her body.”. 

He was right about the camera loving her, there’s absolutely no trace of insecurity in Marilyn Monroe, the persona that Norma Jean referred to in the third person, and could turn into at the drop of a hat. Marilyn Monroe was a vessel for Norma Jean’s own talent, a vessel she would often critique in the third person – “She wouldn’t do this. Marilyn would say that.”.

Marilyn Monroe was as much a part of Norma Jean, as Norma Jean was a part of Marilyn. Amy Greene’s anecdote about Marilyn “becoming” the larger than life force that persists to this day attributed the Marilyn effect to an inner force from within the woman herself. It wasn’t just about the clothes she wore but how she projected herself in them that would transform her into a timeless icon.

The image of Marilyn Monroe that persists today should be more than the one-dimensional figure of tragic fame. Her magnetism on-screen is a testament to the talent and skill that she never could recognize in herself, and the work she was able to produce despite her personal troubles leaves room to imagine how much she was capable of achieving if she had more faith in herself. 

Marilyn is a reminder of the transformative effects of confidence, and how much this one quality can alter our perceptions. Norma Jean felt she needed to become Marilyn Monroe to have the impact that she did, but would she still be the icon she is today if she hadn’t projected that particular persona, or that particular shield? 

Whether you think of Marilyn Monroe dripping in diamonds, performing the opening number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in red sequins, photographed on the beach in her final days, or as a writer who revealed her true self on the page, she wasn’t just a bundle of insecurities in beautiful clothes – she possessed all of the skill, talent, and depth she never thought herself capable of. 

Monroe is a fashion icon whose influence has inexplicably grown to make her a historical figure characterised by glamour and confidence. By sticking to this narrative, we reduce her legacy by only sharing the fragments of her story that were seen on camera. Her reality is a harsh indicator of how blinding insecurity can be, and her lasting legacy is a mark of the achievements she barely acknowledged.  

It is difficult enough to simply exist, let alone occupy the status of an icon, when you are your own worst enemy – and yet, the narrative that persists of Marilyn Monroe’s time in the spotlight might be her best performance of all.

Movies Pop Culture

I’m a feminist and I think all-female reboots are completely missing the point

Okay, I have feelings about all-female reboots.

Equal representation is a loaded topic. In some cases it feels like we’re all at different points in the same conversation. When it comes to entertainment, however, what we as an audience deserve seems easy enough: entertaining content that truthfully depicts our communities, correctly represents us, and tells our stories in new, inventive ways. 

Entertainment needs to be more aware of its influence, not in terms of box office and value for money but as the makers of culture and a method through which we record our shared histories.  

The conversation on equality and representation has hit its peak in Hollywood with the recent guilty verdict of Harvey Weinstein, the aftermath of the MeToo movement, the continuous backlash to awards nominations, as well as more positive changes such as Parasite’s sweeping win at the Oscars and a slew of films that have given us a glimpse into what more inclusive cinema could look like.  

The most confusing recent trend that the dialogue of equality has brought upon us is all-female reboots. This is not a comment on the movies themselves but a comment on the logic behind their existence.

Here’s what I think: gender-flipping well-known movies that had a predominantly male cast in the interest of telling female stories, or to preach equal representation, are missing the entire point. 

All-female reboots seem more like a lazy rewriting of history, for an audience that has already seen the same story, by a studio that hopes the remake will bring in the same box office success as the original. But equality of the genders isn’t about replacing one with the other the way that all-female reboots seem to imply.

I remember watching Ocean’s 8 in cinemas and wondering who this movie was for. I was already a fan of Ocean’s 11 and this wasn’t so much inspired by the original story as it was ripping off the exact same storyline – it was also simultaneously a continuation of the series because, for whatever reason, the central protagonist had to be Danny Ocean’s sister?

The only real difference between Ocean’s 8 and Ocean’s 11 was that Ocean’s 11 had all the perks of being an original film with a well thought out plot. The big twist ending for Ocean’s 8 on the other hand, brought back one of the original (male) cast members, Qin Shaobo, for a sequence where he steals their actual target for them. This one scene where he singlehandedly steals all of their loot just serves to discredit the female characters’ efforts over the course of the movie and makes the whole point of the all-female reboot murkier still. To add insult to injury the movie assembled an all-star cast that could’ve made a brilliant film. All they needed was great content.

Hollywood needs to pour its effort and money into telling stories from a perspective that has been largely ignored, not rehashing the same story and taping a different gender on the front cover.

There have been plenty of sensational films that took the box-office by storm over the years that have been loved by all audiences, regardless of gender – Hustlers, Bridesmaids, Bombshell, Hidden Figures, Booksmart, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Mystic Pizza are just a few. Each of these movies, even remakes of classics like Little Women, took the opportunity to tell a side of a story that wasn’t always visible on the big screen. They told stories from the female perspective about females where femininity was a given, not a plot-point. 

Organic representation takes more than just casting diverse people for the sake of diversity. True representation will come when there is equal opportunity for all, regardless of gender, race, and sexuality to own their stories and take part in every step of the process of sharing them, from scripts to the screen.   

Until then, Hollywood needs to put new experiences and perspectives forward and not just churn out afterthought reassessments of movies from the past. The lasting effects of a film, at the end of the day, will be based on its own merit and not on the political statement it tries to make

All-female reboots of existing movies are a cop-out from actually delving into female stories. The conversation about the representation of all genders, races, sexualities, abilities and everything else that makes the human experience distinct and unique is now more open than ever. Studios funding projects that swap male characters for females only miss the point of actually telling stories about women.

They need to stop putting females in male shoes and just give them the opportunity to wear their own.

Movies Pop Culture

7 upcoming female-led movies that you absolutely need to see

I love going to the movies. The snacks, the popcorn, the films, I love all of it. One part I don’t like about it, though, is the lack of female-led films. Especially in 2019, there so many films that are very male-centric and focus so little on their female characters. We may be doing slightly better than in the past, but the numbers speak for themselves.

According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women made up only 45% of all speaking characters in 2018-19. This is an increase from 2017-18 when women made up only 40% of all speaking characters on television. Women and Hollywood reports that only 9% of the movies that came out during 2017 and 2018 had gender-balanced casts. 

Statistics like these are disappointing, to say the least. 

Thankfully these upcoming movies feature quite a few female leads in them: 

1. Charlie’s Angels, November 15

A new version of the classic television series, Charlie’s Angels features stars like Kristen Stewart, Elizabeth Banks, and many more. These women work for the mysterious Charles Townsend in his expansive investigative agency. They fight crime with new technology and the support of each other. I’m looking forward to seeing what the new film brings to the table as opposed to the one we grew up watching.

2. Margie Claus, November 15

A brunette woman smiles joyously as she pokes her head between a wreath.
[Image description: A brunette woman smiles joyously as she pokes her head between a wreath.] Via MovieWeb
Margie Claus is about Melissa Mccarthy’s character Margie, who must save the day when her husband, Santa Claus, goes missing. Since Santa Claus went missing while delivering presents, Margie must put together a team to rescue him. She then leaves the North Pole for the first time in decades to save both Santa Claus and Christmas

3. Frozen 2, November 22

“Come on, Frozen 2? That is for kids and definitely not empowering at all.” Think again!

Not only was the first film about two sisters fixing their estranged relationship, but it was also about them coming together to fight evil and save their kingdom. The sequel sees the two sisters, Elsa and Anna, team up again with Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven to take on an adventure far from their home, the kingdom of Arendelle. Plus, who’s not excited about all the new songs that will be stuck in our heads for months?

4. Bombshell, December 20

Based on the true scandal, this drama film is about the story of several women that set out to expose Fox News executive and founder Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. This film stars Margot Robbie, Charlize Theron, and Nicole Kidman, who play characters committed to doing more than just exposing the truth about Ailes. They are taking down the toxic male culture that exists in their workplace. This film also shows just how much women are trained to censor themselves as a result of workplace sexism.

5. The Rhythm Section, January 31, 2020

Ok, this one has to be one of my favorites out of these seven films. Not only is it about a badass woman getting revenge, but it stars the incredible Blake Lively. This film is essentially about her character who is seeking to get revenge on those who set up a plane crash that killed her family.

6. Birds of Prey, February 2020

All of you super villian lovers and DC fans get ready for Birds of Prey. This film is about Harley Quinn after her split from the Joker. She then teams up with Black Canary, Huntress, and Renee Montoya to save a little girl, Cassandra Cain, from the evil crime lord in Gotham City, Black Mask. This film is also the eighth film in the DC Extended Universe Series, and is definitely going to be worth the wait! 

7. Mulan, March 27 2020

A live-action version of the timeless Disney classic, this movie is sure to wow crowds with its special effects and high definition technology. So, despite the many controversies surrounding the movie, we can at least all look forward to watching our favorite Chinese badass save China once again.

These films not only have female leads but also tell stories of women overcoming challenges and taking on adventures. Some go out on their own while others have a sister by their side. 

What female-led movie are you most excited about?